When I was in college, networking was this big, intimidating thing that mere mortals couldn’t manage. Classmates got summer jobs at high-powered accounting and law firms, or internships on Capitol Hill and major news networks, all because they went to high school with the son or daughter of someone who was well connected.
Me? My contacts would have been able to offer a nice character reference if I applied for a fast food job.
I’m not sure if the world has changed or if I have just reached critical mass, but sometime in my mid-20s it occurred to me that I knew people. In fact, I knew lots of people. And these people formed a network….
Suddenly, the cartoon lightbulb appeared over my head. I not only started mining the contacts that I had, but I actively tried to meet new people because you just never know who might be able to make that connection for you.
These days, in addition to my pretty extensive list of contacts on LinkedIn, I also try to meet new people at industry events and conferences. Networking events can be exhausting, especially for those of us who aren’t “on” for a face-to-face audience on a regular basis, but it doesn’t have to be as stressful as you’re probably imagining.
It’s easy to get caught up in complex lists of networking dos and don’ts. Here are some quick reminders that have worked for me:
- Networking is just talking. Steer clear of lightning rod topics like religion and politics and you should be just fine.
- Listen more and talk less. People like to talk with engaging conversational partners, not people who babble to fill the silence.
- Have a fallback topic in case of critical conversational lull. No, don’t resort to the weather. Ask a question that actually tells you something about the person. I like to ask where they grew up, or what their first job was. You find out interesting stories and usually have a good laugh in the process.
- Remember the “business” part of business casual. Sorry, ladies, but flip-flops won’t do. And that goes double for men. Yes, I have seen the latter at conferences, much more than I’d like to admit.
What tips have worked for you? Please share in the comments.
BTW: This is part of a series Alisa is writing on networking. Her “Networking Tomatoes” is one of the most popular posts on this blog lately (even though it’s no longer tomato season).